Mitigating arsenic crisis in the developing world: role of robust, reusable and selective hybrid anion exchanger (HAIX)
Drinkwell's patented Hybrid Ion Exchange or "HIX" line of nanotechnology resins have been consistently removing arsenic and fluoride from groundwater to meet World Health Organization standards in the most challenging regions in South Asia thanks to its unique zirconium-based composition.
Brackish water desalination plants are mostly located inland and must resort to expensive concentrate disposal methods like deep well injection or evaporation ponds. Increasing the recovery of RO process would obviously reduce the volume of concentrate to be disposed of but cannot be implemented due to scaling of sulfate (CaSO4, BaSO4, etc.) and silica (SiO2) resulting in fouling of RO membranes. We have developed a hybrid Ion Exchange-Reverse Osmosis (HIX-RO) process where tunable anion exchange resins can eliminate sulfate precipitation (2) and silica fouling without addition of external regenerants or anti-scaling chemicals.
The World Health Organization reports that the arsenic water crisis, affecting over 200 million people across 70 countries, is the largest mass poisoning in human history (World Health Organization, 2000). Despite millions of dollars being spent, over 48 million people in India and Bangladesh alone are affected by widespread arsenic poisoning due to drinking water drawn from underground sources containing arsenic at concentrations well above the permissible limit of 50 ug/L. In Bangladesh, one in every five deaths occurs due to arsenic-contaminated water (The Lancet, 2010).
Since the 1970s, tens of millions of people in West Bengal and Bangladesh have been at risk of an early death from groundwater containing toxic levels of arsenic.
In Bangladesh alone, 90 % of the nation’s population uses groundwater as their primary source of fresh water, and there are over 77 million villagers in rural Bangladesh whose only water source is contaminated by the toxin. As the population has grown throughout the decades, the problem has gotten worse, and attempts to mitigate the disaster have been unsuccessful.
According to the World Bank, the arsenic crisis, stunts intellectual development, creates gender inequalities, and has already cost the Bangladesh economy US$22.89 Billion in lost GDP due to its debilitating health effects.
Arsenic is a colorless, odorless, naturally occurring metal that is found in dangerously high amounts within the groundwater of South Asia. Long-term exposure to such high levels of arsenic can lead to arsenicosis, an incurable cancer-causing disease.
Despite billions of dollars being spent, 780 million people still lack access to clean, potable drinking water. According to the UN Joint Monitoring Programme on Water and Sanitation, 50% of all water projects fail because communities have not or cannot assume responsibility for maintenance and repairs of water systems. Drinkwell leverages the profit incentive to sustain community involvement from project inception through maintenance and upkeep by using our "Select, Build, Sell, Collect" approach. We operate a network of entrepreneurs that generate an income by selling clean drinking water that can improve the health, wealth, and productivity of the world's poorest populations.
Drinkwell takes waste management very seriously, as the team has personally seen the adverse effects of improper waste management in current solutions that allow for arsenic to leach back into the soil, thereby repolluting the environment. Our system has an EPA-validated waste management process:
This disposal technique, developed and validated under rural conditions, is scientifically more appropriate than dumping arsenic-loaded adsorbents into landfills, which is the typical practice in developed nations.
A diagram of our media flow can be viewed here.
“Through this arsenic mitigation technology, we have been able to transform the health crisis into a revenue generating business while drinking safe water.”
- Sakti Sadhana Club Member (Ashoknagar, West Bengal, India)
Drinkwell uses award-winning technology developed by Dr. Arup SenGupta of Lehigh University. The technology has seen 200 successful deployments across Laos, Cambodia, and West Bengal (India) through investment of over $1 million as well as mentorship from the following public, private, and non-profit organizations:
Over the past decade, the SenGupta Research Lab of Lehigh University has partnered with Bengal Engineering and Science University in Bengal, India, and Water for People in Denver, Colorado to install 200 community-based wellhead arsenic removal units in remote villages in West Bengal, India. These systems supply nearly 200,000 villagers with arsenic-safe water. Each village manages the system through a local community-based committee and have been running successfully for several years.
In 2008, the Tagore-SenGupta Foundation was formed to introduce the technology using an innovative school-based business model. The work revealed the enormous potential for scaling a micro-franchise model that spurs entrepreneurship at the individual level, clean water access at the household level, and economic growth and global health improvement at the community level.
Throughout this process, the technology has won countless awards (for a full list of honors and awards please visit the Technology Milestones section).
Drinkwell was established in May 2013 as a part of WIST, Inc., to capitalize on the lessons learned of the over 200 implementations and take advantage of the enormous market opportunity of providing clean drinking water to rural and peri-urban communities that lack access to affordable sources of clean drinking water.
Drinkwell is born from over 30+ years of collective on-the-ground experience in the arsenic water space in India and Bangladesh.
Minhaj Chowdhury (CEO/Co-Founder) has 5 years of experience implementing arsenic projects with the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (“BRAC”), the largest NGO in the world, and Johns Hopkins University. As a Fulbright Fellow to Bangladesh, he researched villager willingness to pay for clean water. His work has been acclaimed by UNICEF, WaterAid Bangladesh, the US Ambassador to Bangladesh, and the Bangladesh Health Secretary, and serves as the basis for Drinkwell's growth strategy. Minhaj has prior experience as a Consultant with Exeter Group where he held roles in product development for state-based health insurance exchanges as well as project management for an operational turnaround of a large non-profit organization with an annual budget of $3B. Minhaj holds a BA in Public Health from Johns Hopkins and has won multiple awards from organizations such as the US State Department, SXSW, and others. He is a 2014 Echoing Green Fellow as well as a 2015 Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur.
Dr. Prasun Chatterjee (CTO) has 19 years of industrial experience in design, engineering, and commissioning a variety of water treatments, 5 years of research experience, and 2 years experience in the synthesis and development of arsenic and fluoride selective nano-sorbents including design and execution of arsenic and fluoride removal projects for mitigation of groundwater crisis in India with the non-profit organization Society for Technology with a Human Face. Prasun holds a bachelors and mastesr degree in Chemical Engineering from Jadavpur University, India as well as a PhD in Environmental Engineering under Professor Arup K. Sengupta, from Lehigh University, USA. He has won the 2010 C. Ellen Gonter Environmental Chemistry Award from ACS and a variety of honors from EPA and other competitions. He has 4 peer-reviewed journal publications and 1 US Patent.
Mizan Rahman (Bangladesh Country Director) has 26 years experience in Water and Sanitation with BRAC, most recently as Program Manager of a $77M budget program involving over 6,000 field staff to provide safe water and sanitation across Bangladesh. While at BRAC, he liaised with technical assistance and funding partners including UNICEF, World Bank Water & Sanitation Program, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IRC, charity:water, Rotary International, Splash, Bangladesh Ministry of Environment, and Department of Public Health Engineering. He has overseen the deployment of over 3,000 water systems of a variety of technologies while managing a field staff of over 6,000. Mizan has a Bachelors of Science and Masters in Information Science from Dhaka University, as well as a diploma in Environmental Education from the Center for Environmental Education (CEE) - Ahmedabad as a Commonwealth Scholar.
Dr. Arup K. SenGupta (R&D Director/Co-Founder) has been a Chemical Engineering Professor at Lehigh University for over 25 years. He is an expert on groundwater remediation and under his non-profit, the Tagore-SenGupta Foundation, he has led the installation of 200+ community-operated arsenic treatment systems across Southeast Asia that today provides safe water to over 200,000 people. He has received many U.S. and international awards and honors, delivered several invited and/or keynote and plenary lectures in both theU. S. and overseas, and is a highly cited scholar with over 75 publications and 9 patents. Dr. SenGupta was a 2011 Fulbright Scholar in India and is the inventor of Drinkwell's technology.
Dr. Mike German (Head of Products/Co-Founder) was a 2013 Fulbright-Nehru Fellow to India where his research was titled "Empowering Women to Transform a Water Crisis into Water Business in the Indian Sub-Continent." He is applying technology and infrastructure lessons learned from the non-profit operations of the Tagore-SenGupta Foundation to Drinkwell's growth strategy. Currently pursuing his PhD in Environmental Engineering under Professor SenGupta, hehas helped develop the resin technology within the SenGupta Research Lab. Mike's findings in discovering social business models to tackle the arsenic and fluoride water crisis has been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Mike holds a Masters in Environmental Engineering from Lehigh University and a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from University of Maryland - Baltimore County.
Sanjay Verma (Board Member/Co-Founder) works with start-ups and small organizations by helping them use strategic principles of building businesses and elicit support and resources to bring the impact of creative technologies to the “bottom of the pyramid.” Sanjay was the Founder and CEO of ITC InfoTech, a key player in the planning and execution of “e-Choupal,” a rural initiative empowering farmers across India with an Internet infrastructure offering up-to-date marketing and agriculture information for the procurement of agri- and aqua-cultural products. He currently serves as Divisional Vice President for PTC's Global Services where he manages worldwide operations, strategic planning and global initiatives. He is also a contributor to Celebrity Series of Boston in the roles of a Board Member and a member of the Executive Committee.
Samir Shah (Board Member) is a finance professional who has returned to India after a 26-year career in the global financial markets between New York and Hong Kong. He currently advises on the investments of the Sattva Funds as Founder Director and is an active investor in Indian companies. Previously, Samir was the Executive Director of Fixed Income and Commodities at Goldman Sachs Asia. Samir has a significant portfolio in the India social enterprise space (Avaaz.De, Parvata Foods, Margdarshak, iSEED, and JoyByNature), serves on the board of International Development Enterprises - India, and is an advisor to VA Tech Wabag and Waaree Energies.
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